I want to share with you a short story I wrote called The Calm. It’s a disturbing and candid story about abuse, ignorance, acceptance, and much much more. When writing this I was experimenting with tension between characters and nature. Melodrama fuels the story until the end, but I think that’s what creates the intense moments between the characters.
The Calm is ruthless in its portrayal of the struggle for acceptance and freedom. It’s also tragic and maybe redemptive. It’s written to stir emotions and make you angry or upset. If you feel that then I succeeded at what I was trying to accomplish. You be the judge. Enjoy.
The wind blew hard outside knocking open the screen door for the third time today. Jean ran over grabbing at the handle to pull it shut. She closed the door, but not before she locked the screen door so it wouldn’t blow open again. The storm was coming and Jean didn’t know what to do other than continue to make dinner and iron clothes. The television was blaring the news telling her that she should prepare for the worse.
“What was that noise,” Linda asked from her bedroom.
“The damn screen door blew open again,” Jean said. She wiped her hands on her apron and then walked back into the kitchen to stir the steaming pot of chicken. She was going to make Kevin’s favorite meal tonight. He loved chicken and dumplings and she wanted tonight to be special.
“The what,” Linda called again from her bedroom.
“The screen door,” Jean yelled, but stopped. She walked into Linda’s bedroom as she wiped her hands again on the apron. Linda moved from one end of her room to the next. Jean watched her as she placed a few mementos into her bag. “The screen door blew open again.” Linda stopped long enough to look at her mother.
“Again…that’s the third time today,” she said.
“That’s what I said,” Jean said softly as she walked over to Linda’s bed picking up a picture of them two. Jean stared at it for a moment. She remembered the day they took that picture. It was at Hollis Park during the fireworks for the Fourth of July. They were so happy then, not like now. “There’s someone missing from this picture.”
“And rightly so,” Linda said. “I removed him from the picture. He doesn’t deserve to be a part of that happy day.”
“Linda, you can’t just remove your father from a picture like that.” Linda laughed as she pulled a shoebox from the top shelf of her closet. “Sure I can. It was easy to do, mom, I just took scissors and snipped him out of my life,” she said.
“Life isn’t like that dear, you can’t just snip him out of your life like you can the picture,” Jean said. She smiled at the picture. Linda fell onto the bed bouncing a few times before she settled. She opened the shoebox and took the picture from her mother.
“But don’t you wish you could, momma?” She slipped the picture into the box and closed the lid. “Only if you could just snip away,” she said as she gestured her fingers like she was cutting paper. “Snip…snip.”
“Oh, child, you are a mess,” Jean said feeling nervous suddenly. She looked at her daughter who seemed very confident—happy. Linda sensed what her mother was thinking and reached over taking her hand into her own. She then hugged her.
“It will be okay, mom. I’m going to be just fine.” Linda pulled back and after rubbing her mother’s arms kissed her on the cheek. “That is after I get out of here.” She stood up from the bed and went over the inventory in her head of what she was going to take with her. The wind blew hard outside making the house creek a little. Linda stopped running over things in her head turning her attention to her window. Her face changed showing her concern. “I hope this calms down long enough for me to go.”
“I don’t see any reason why you should leave today or ever for that fact,” Jean said folding her hands together in her lap. Linda turned to her mother.
“Are you kidding me,” she said. “I can’t believe you said that to me.”
“Well it’s true, Linda, you don’t have a real reason to leave this house…leave me,” she said.
“Is that what this is about?”
“No…yes,” Jean said. “I love you and I don’t want you to leave.”
“But, mother, I have to leave,” Linda said. “I have to go or I will end up doing something terrible…”
“Stop talking like that, child,” Jean said feeling shaken. Her eyes watered at the thought of Linda even… “I will not sit here and have you say such sinful things.”
“Well it’s true!”
“Stop talking about it,” Jean yelled, the tears falling from her eyes.
“Why so you can deal with things a little better? Face the facts, mom, I was going to runaway or kill myself. It was one or the other and you knew it.”
“Stop please stop,” Jean pleaded. “I don’t want to think that you would have ever considered committing such an act.” Linda settled back onto the bed next to her mother.
“I’m sorry for even letting you know. I just had it with everything…with him,” Linda said. “I just couldn’t take another day living with that abusive pig.”
“Linda, that’s your father you’re talking about,” Jean said.
“Oh there you go…defending him. Why do you do that?” Linda slid off the bed with disgust. “You defend him too much and one day I hope you finally see him for the monster he is,” she said. “It’s only a matter of time, I tell you. You’re going to wake up one day and ask yourself where has everyone gone.” Linda pointed her finger at her mother as she talked to her. “You’re going to regret letting your life get away…your youth.”
“My youth,” Jean said with a huff. “I still have my youth.”
“No you don’t.” Jean looked at Linda like she was angry at what she said. Insulting her like that.
“No…you don’t,” Linda said. “You gave that up when you married him. He bled you dry like he was trying to do to me. But I’m not going to let him.” Jean looked down at the bed. It was hard for her to hear what was coming from her daughter’s mouth.
“You forget how much he has done for us,” Jean said.
“He hasn’t done a damn thing for me,” Linda said. “But you have…you have helped me out a lot. And I’m grateful for that.” She walked over to her mother and hugged her again. Jean stood up from the bed and continued to embrace her daughter. Tears pouring from her eyes.
“It’s the least I could do,” she said as a beeping noise came from Linda’s pocket. They pulled apart long enough for Linda to pull her cell phone from her pocket. She checked the text message and smiled. “Is that her?”
“Yes,” Linda said smiling. When she said it, she even sounded happy. “Oh, momma, do you have to worry so much.”
“Linda, I want the best for you, but I don’t know about this,” Jean said.
“It will be okay. I’m happy and I thought that was what you wanted.”
“I…I do my child. I do want you happy.” They hugged again. The wind blew a hard gush against the house as something slammed hard against the screen door making both women jump. The bang came again accompanied by a man yelling.
“Jean open the door and let me in,” the man yelled.
They both looked at each other.
“He wasn’t supposed to be home before I left,” Linda said worried.
“I know…I know,” Jean said holding her daughter’s arms.
“What should we do?”
“Jean damn it let me in this house,” he screamed banging on the door.
“Honey text Beth and let her know you’re going to be late. Your father is home. They must have let them go early from the plant because of the weather,” she said.
Linda wiped under her eyes erasing the tears her and her mother shared. She then picked her bag up off the bed and slid it under it to hide it from her father. Jean walked up to the door and opened it as Kevin slammed his fist down onto the screen door again.
“Let me in now, woman,” he screamed.
“Hold on I’m here,” she said and unlatched the screen door. The wind blew it open hitting Kevin in the head. Jean snickered a little, but suddenly dropped it when Kevin pulled at the door and kicked it until it broke off its hinges. He threw it onto the porch, letting the wind carry it out into the yard. Kevin walked into the house and slammed the door hard, which made it echo in the house.
“You think that’s funny?” Kevin stared at Jean, which made her move away from him. “The damn boss let me go early due to the storm coming. You know what that means…,” he said not really expecting Jean to answer. “It means that my paycheck will be small. Damn weather!”
“I’m sorry about that,” Jean said. “But it’s a good thing that you are home and not in this mess.”
“Shut up Jean,” he said sneering at her. Kevin walked in glancing at Linda who stood in the doorway of her bedroom. He pulled off his shoes and coat throwing them on the floor. She watched him as he moved through the house finally settling in his chair. Jean picked up his coat and slid his shoes by the door. She folded the coat and motioned for Linda to come over.
“Go put your bag by the window and I will pass it out to you,” she said, winking at her daughter. Linda smiled pulling out her phone to send a text to Beth. She walked into her bedroom and pulled her bag out from under it placing it by the window. She peeked outside. Her phone beeped and she checked the message. She sent another text and looked out the window again. A car that was parked a few houses down flashed its lights two times. Linda sent another text, smiling. Linda left the room walking back into the living room where her parents were. Jean stirred the chicken and added the dumplings to the mix. It wasn’t much longer and the food would be done. Jean looked over at her daughter who seemed to be cautious as she moved through the room. “Linda could you please run over to Mrs. Beamer’s house and see if they would like to come over here to wait the storm out with us?”
“Oh, that’s a good idea mom. Jerry is out of town and she shouldn’t be over there by herself anyways.”
“I know, and poor little Peggy will be crying for sure if the power went out,” Jean said nodding at her daughter as if to say goodbye. Jean looked as if she were about to cry as Linda slowly made her way over to the door.
“No one is going anywhere,” Kevin said. He stood up from his chair.
“Why not?” Linda couldn’t believe any of this was happening.
“Because you idiot there is a storm going on outside. You shouldn’t be crossing the street. Besides I don’t give two-shits about that damn woman,” he said.
“Kevin,” Jean said.
“Well it’s true. She is one annoying woman…next to you two that is.”
“But dad we really should check on them…just in case…”
“What the hell did I just say,” he yelled. “No one is going anywhere. Now you get away from that door before I come over there and…”
“And what…” Linda asked, ready to fight.
“I will hit you girl. You’re not too old for me to hit you,” he said shaking his fist at her.
“I would like to…”
“Now Linda, let’s not start this today,” Jean said, her voice scared. Linda backed off from saying anything and Kevin sat back down in his chair. He turned the television up letting the reporter’s voice fill the room with his report on the coming storm. As he spoke, it began to rain hard. Linda sent a text to Beth as both Jean and her walked over to the window to see if the rain was coming down as hard as it sounded. It was—it was pouring down hard from the sky. Jean could barely see anything outside. The two women looked at each other. “Just be patient, dear, the time will come.”
“What are you two women up to?”
Jean and Linda pulled themselves from the window startled by Kevin’s sudden intrusion. They didn’t know what to say to him as he looked at them with an eyebrow cocked on one side.
“We’re up to nothing silly man,” Jean teased him.
“Well you two stop acting all ‘silly’ and get dinner ready. The weather man says that a tornado may hit and I don’t want to be squatting in a bathtub on an empty stomach,” he said. Linda rolled her eyes as her phone beeped. She pulled the phone from her pocket and looked at the message Beth sent her. She looked up at her father who was looking at her and the phone. Linda slipped the phone into her pocket. She walked over to the cabinet and pulled out plates as she started to set the table. Kevin took his seat at his chair waiting for them to finish. He then turned the television toward the kitchen table as he walked over to take a seat at it. He didn’t want to miss a single thing the reporter had to say when it came to the storm. He wanted to make sure he didn’t need to run and take cover.
The wind and rain hit hard against the house making it creek and groan. Jean thought for a moment that the walls were going to cave in on them, but the house held tight. She scooped out the chicken and dumplings from the pot and placed a portion of the meal in each of their plates. Kevin didn’t hesitate as he dug into his meal with the bread he snatched up from the breadbasket that Linda sat on the table. He didn’t even wait for her to sit the basket down before he started taking from it. Linda hated him. She hated everything he was and wanted desperately to leave the house. Why couldn’t she just get up and walk out? What stopped her from doing that—him? Her phone beeped and she pulled it from her pocket.
“Put that damn phone away right now,” Kevin demanded.
“It’s not hurting anyone,” Linda said. “I’m not a kid anymore dad, you can’t tell me I can’t have my phone out.”
“What did you just say to me, girl?”
“I said I am an adult and I can have my phone out if I want to have it out,” Linda said.
“Now, Linda…” Jean started to say.
“You stop right there! Don’t you try to stop this piece of shit from saying what’s on her mind,” Kevin yelled, food spitting from his mouth as he talked.
“Shut your mouth woman and let the abomination speak!”
“Abomination! I’m the abomination!”
“You heard me,” he said, slamming his fist down onto the table. “Your kind, are a waste in this world.”
“I am not going to listen to this.”
“I knew I should have given you up the day you were born…the day you came up to us and told us about…”
“Kevin, please stop this!”
“Shut your mouth, Jean! This is my house and I will say what I damn well please and you or… HER… will not tell me differently,” he screamed. His voice roared almost as loud as the storm raging outside.
“Please let’s not do this today…please,” Jean cried.
“You’re dead to me girl. In fact I do believe I never had a child.”
“Jean I said shut up,” Kevin screamed and threw his plate across the room. The plate shattered and landed all over the kitchen. He then slammed his fist into the table again as he stood up from his chair. “Every time I start saying something true you have to jump in and try to stop me.”
“I’m…I’m sorry, Kevin. I just don’t want you to say anything that you will regret.”
“Damn you woman,” he yelled and held his hand up ready to slap her.
“Stop right there! Don’t you hit her!” Linda stood up running around the table to be between her parents as the power went out. Everything went dark which startled Linda for a moment. She could barely see her father’s rage in the dark, but she heard her mother whimper behind her. Jean ran off from the room and into her own room. Kevin mumbled something hateful under his breath as he punched the table again. He walked over to his chair in the living room and sat down in the darkness. Linda stood there in the darkness—in the silence. “You’re a hateful old man. You don’t deserve her. You don’t deserve anyone.”
“You are nothing to me and we never wanted you. You were a mistake,” he said. Linda walked out of the room. She knocked on her mother’s bedroom door. She pushed it open walking in. Her mother laid on the bed with her face buried into the pillow.
Jean felt like a little girl again. She was crying because her daddy was punishing her for doing something wrong. It was funny how she ended up marrying a man that was just like her own father. Jean for a moment tried to remember what it was like when she first met Kevin. What was it that attracted her to him? She couldn’t remember and actually, she didn’t care anymore. The words of her own daughter echoed in her head about wondering where everyone went. She didn’t want to live like that.
“Are you okay?” Linda lay down next to her mom putting an arm around her.
“I will be fine,” she said. They whispered softly to each other.
“You know you can always come with me,” she said.
“I would be a third wheel,” Jean said smiling.
“No, you would be free and you could meet someone who will treat you better than that asshole,” she said. Jean laughed quietly.
“I couldn’t leave. I’m not as strong as you,” she said.
“I think you will surprise yourself at how strong you really are,” Linda said. “I don’t want to leave and have to think that you will be trapped here with him. I couldn’t bear the thought.”
“Then don’t go,” Jean pleaded.
“I have to go. I can’t spend another day in this house with him and his ignorance.”
“I was ignorant like him too,” Jean said.
“No…not like him. You accepted me for who I am and I love you for that,” she said. “Beth and I are going to be happy because of you. But you can be happy too, mom. You don’t have to live this way.”
“I know, dear, I know. I just wouldn’t know what to do…I wouldn’t know how to live.”
“That’s the great thing about starting over. You can make it however you want, good or bad. Besides you will have me and Beth to support you.” Jean smiled at her daughter. She bit her finger and shook her head up and down. “Is that a yes?”
“Yes,” she said feeling good inside. It was a feeling that she had never felt before—or at least in a very long time. A creek sounded from outside the door of the room and the two women paused in the silence. They looked at each other.
“Do you think…”
“I’m not sure,” Jean said. She took a hold of Linda’s hand and shook it.
“What are we going to do?”
“We have to get out of the house. That’s the first thing we need to do. Is Beth waiting for you?”
“Yes, she is a few houses down. If this storm wasn’t going on, we would have been out of here already. It would be too risky for us to drive away in this weather anyways…even if we get out of the house,” she said.
“But still we would have made it that far,” Jean said feeling confident.
“Then I say we go. He can’t stop us both if we leave together.”
“Yes, I agree,” Jean said. Both the women rose up from the bed making their way into the living room. They looked around for Kevin, but didn’t see him. They walked over to the door and Jean unlocked it. Just then, a beep came from Linda’s cell phone. Both of the women froze. Out of habit, Linda searched her pocket for her phone, but it wasn’t there. A light flicked on from the corner of the living room. It was the light from Linda’s phone. The blue light that came from the phone illuminated Kevin’s face.
“So she’s here,” he said in a low growl. “You were planning on running out on me and your mom.” Linda took a deep breath gulping air into her throat. Her mouth was dry.
“Yes,” she said. “I want out of this place. I want to be away from anything and everything that has to do with you.”
“Really,” he said. Linda didn’t answer him. The silence was his answer. “Where do you think you’re going?” Jean fumbled with the door handle as she tried not to even look at Kevin. She didn’t want to answer him. The wind howled outside and beat the rain against the house. “Well!?”
“I…I’m going to leave with Linda,” she said finally.
“Yes,” she said.
“You think you can do that? You think I will let you just walk out of this house with this piece of shit!” Kevin walked up to them both. He threw Linda’s cell phone across the room. She heard it slam against the wall. It sounded like the phone broke, but Linda didn’t care—it was a small price to pay for freedom. “You’re not going anywhere!” Kevin shoved Jean away from the door. She fell backwards and onto the floor.
“I told you to leave her alone,” Linda yelled and slapped her father. Kevin looked at Linda with a fury. His face turned red and his eyes watered with what she described in her head as hate. Kevin slapped Linda in the head and then slapped her again. Her face stung from the hit, which made her cry from the pain, but it didn’t stop her from yelling. “You can hit me all you want asshole. Mom, run! Go! Leave now,” she screamed. Kevin wrapped his hand around Linda’s throat as he balled up a fist, punching her. She screamed as he pushed her backwards into her room. Linda’s bedroom door slammed shut preventing her from leaving.
Jean ran up to the door banging on it.
“Stop this! Stop this, Kevin! Let me in!” She pounded her fists into the door as she heard her daughter scream in pain as Kevin’s fists pounded into her. Jean could hear the hits as his fists made contact with her body.
“Momma, run,” Linda cried from the room.
“Kevin, stop doing this,” Jean cried as tears poured from her eyes. Jean slowly fell to her knees as the screams and hits slowly came to a stop. “Stop…please…stop,” she said softly through her tears. The door to Linda’s room opened. Kevin stood in the doorway for a moment and then brushed past Jean, who was still kneeling on the floor. She heard the faucet to the kitchen sink come on. He was washing his hands. Jean looked into the room. She shook as she crawled into the darkness. The room ransacked. Her fingers fumbled across the floor as her eyes settled onto Linda’s hand hanging over the edge of the bed. She didn’t move. Jean wiped her nose and eyes. “Baby…” she called softly. No answer. “My baby…Linda…” she called to her. Jean reached up with her fingers and lightly touched Linda’s fingers with her own. The touch was just enough for Jean to know that her daughter was dead. “No! No…no…no…no,” she cried. “You killed her!” Jean bent over holding her stomach as she felt the pain of losing her beloved daughter. Linda’s lifeless hand reaching out to her. She sacrificed her freedom so Jean could run away. So she could be free. Jean lay on the floor for a moment.
“Woman, get in here and fix me another plate of food…I’m still hungry,” he called from in the living room. Jean didn’t move…her body was limp and she didn’t want to feed the asshole. She didn’t care anymore. “Jean don’t make me come in there and drag your ass from that room.” Just then, the lights came back on and Jean opened her eyes. A few inches in front of her was the picture of her and Linda at Hollis Park. Jean reached over and picked it up. “About time the lights came back on. That means the storm is almost over. Jean, get in here…now!”
“Coming,” she said softly. Jean pulled herself off the floor and walked back into the living room.
“About damn time,” he said. “Now fix me another plate.”
“Yes,” she said in a daze. “I will do that for you.” Jean walked into the kitchen slipping the picture into her pocket. She grabbed a plate and the pot of chicken and dumplings. Kevin turned the television to a comedy show. Laughter came out of the television as Jean walked over and laid the plate in front of him. She scooped the meal from the pot and filled his plate up.
“Damn woman this is so good today,” he said. She couldn’t believe he was acting like he didn’t just kill their daughter. Jean watched him as he laughed with the television show. She held the pot in her hand looking through the steam, which came from the pot, at him. He caught her looking at him. “Damn it woman go find something to do.”
“Okay,” she said softly. Jean flung the hot steaming meal at Kevin’s face. He screamed in pain as the hot liquid burned his skin. Kevin stood up wiping at his face with his hands.
“You bitch,” he screamed. Kevin narrowed his eyes at Jean, his face red from the liquid burns. Jean slammed the pot into Kevin’s face making him fall backwards. Before he could recover, she slammed his head again, this time making him fall to the floor. As if she wasn’t herself, Jean straddled Kevin and brought the pot down onto his head repeatedly. The television laughed as she laughed. They laughed together. The sound of the pot hitting Kevin’s face was like meat hitting a table before the butcher would cut it up. After awhile, though, it began to sound mushy and that was when Jean finally stopped hitting him.
A knock came to the door.
“Jean,” a woman called. Jean stood up off her husband’s dead body. She noticed that the storm had stopped. Jean walked over to the door as a knock came to the door again.
“Jean,” a man called. She opened the door and stared at the three people looking at her.
“Oh, Jean, we were so worried. I saw your screen door laying in the yard and I thought something bad had happened to you,” the older woman said. She looked at Jean with an odd expression. “Honey, are you alright? Jean?”
“Jean,” the man said.
“I…I killed my husband,” she said quietly. The old woman looked at Jean as if she wasn’t sure if she heard her correctly.
“I killed Kevin,” she said. The old man walked past Jean and into the house.
“Dear God,” he cried. “Quickly we need to call 9-1-1.” The old woman ran past Jean to see what he was yelling about. The other person walked up to Jean. She was unaware of what was happening in the house.
“Mrs. Battle, I’m Beth…Linda’s…” Jean looked at the young woman standing in front of her. Jean smiled.
“Beth,” she said. “It’s nice to meet you.”
“Mrs. Battle, is Linda okay?”
“Linda…” Jean said as her mind moved off to the picture in her pocket. Jean reached into her pocket and pulled it out. It was a little wrinkled but it was okay. Beth walked past Jean and into the house. There was a scream from inside the house as Jean walked out onto the porch. She took in a deep breath and watched as the sides of the house dripped. In the distance, the sound of sirens rang out. Jean walked out on to the steps of the house looking up to the sky. The sun peeked through the clouds brightening everything. She walked away from the house and started down the road—not even noticing the ambulance and police vehicles speed past her. She stared at the picture of her and Linda as she walked down the road to her freedom.